Why is America the Least Bilingual Country?

In which country are the most languages ​​spoken?

Illustrated by Chaim Garcia

Many of us grew up in a country where there is only one official language or only that one language is actually spoken - and we then assume that learning a foreign language is an adventure in which we overcome the boundaries of our culture become. For many people around the world, speaking a second or even third language is simply part of their normal, everyday life. But which is the country with the most languages?

We researched some of the most multilingual countries. Our selection criteria are not limited to the number of languages ​​spoken, otherwise the US would top the list, as more than 400 languages ​​are spoken there. Instead, we have selected countries where the Multilingualism is an integral part of society and where it is perfectly normal to switch from one language to another when driving from one city to another.


Let's start in Europe. Switzerland (four official languages) or Belgium (three official languages) could be on the list, but as in most multilingual countries in Europe, it is the demarcated population groups who actually speak these languages. However, Luxembourg is the exception. As a small principality in the heart of Europe, Luxembourg has three official languages: French German and Luxembourgish. That doesn't sound like a lot at first, but all three languages ​​are included and used both in the education system and in official documents. Most native Luxembourgers speak all three languages ​​fluently, which is why the country can confidently be described as a trilingual society - a rarity and a small miracle.


Different countries emerged from the ruins of Yugoslavia, one of them Serbia. Its official language is Serbian, but due to the eventful past it is also possible to encounter various other languages ​​there. Older people still speak through the former influence of the Soviet Union Russian, and since Serbian dem Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin is similar, the speakers of these four languages ​​can communicate with one another. In certain areas you can also hear Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak and Albanian (especially in areas near the border of these countries). There are six official languages ​​in the province of Vojvodina alone: Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovak and Ruthenian. And when you visit central Serbia, you might even hear it from time to time Bulgarian.

It will also be in the geographical area of ​​the former Yugoslavia Macedonian and Slovenian spoken. So in all of today's successor states you meet people who understand and speak both languages ​​- especially in the successor states of Macedonia and Slovenia, of course.

English is taught as a compulsory subject in school from an early age. German is not compulsory, but it is very important as an optional subject for people who, for example, leave Serbia to work in another country - in this case often in Austria.

And what should not be ignored: Serbian has two different alphabets, namely Latin and Cyrillic. You can choose one of the two, but in both cases the principle is to write a word as you pronounce it so that learners and readers are given great phonetic precision.

South Africa

When apartheid came to an end in South Africa, the principle that there could be such a thing as too many official languages ​​was thrown overboard: South Africa currently has it eleven Official languages! But most of its history were Afrikaans (an offshoot of Dutch spoken by the first settlers in 1652) and English (which came to the country from 1822 with the second wave of colonization) the predominant languages. The history of South Africa is particularly paradoxical when compared to other countries that also have a colonial history. In contrast to other colonized countries where the national language and dialects were rigorously eradicated, the native language was not banned during centuries of colonization in South Africa. In fact, the settlers even encouraged the local population to speak these languages ​​in order to promote cultural separation and at the same time make it impossible to access all higher positions occupied by the whites. Many indigenous peoples who did not speak English were linguistically fenced off in this way - and democracy withheld from millions of people for generations.

After the end of the official racial segregation, other languages ​​besides Afrikaans and English were recognized as official languages: Ndebele, North Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. In a country with such a variety of languages ​​as South Africa, most citizens speak more than one language.


Spanning two continents, Russia is home to a multitude of languages ​​spread across more than 20 republics within the borders of the Russian Federation. These languages ​​are officially recognized in their respective constituent republics: Adygean, Bashkir, Ingush, Kabardian, Balkar, Tatar, Kalmuck, Abasinian, Circassian, Karachay, Nogaisch, Mari, Mordovian, Komi, Ossetian, Udmurt table, ** Chechen ** and Chuvash.

The official language is still RussianSo it is possible to travel to this vast country and make yourself understood when you speak Russian.


The geographic location is certainly responsible for the linguistic diversity of Indonesia. With around 18,000 islands (922 of which are inhabited), there is almost inevitably such a diversity of languages. Many residents of the same island do not even speak the same language, although the Malay language (Bahasa Indonesia), which grew out of the Malay trade language, was made the official language in the 1930s and is now taught in schools across the country. Around 20 million people speak this as their mother tongue and a further 140 million people as their first foreign language.

Indonesia is home to 240 million people and many different ethnic groups, so there are more than ** 725 languages ​​** across the country - many of which are in danger of disappearing in an increasingly globalized world.


It is rather difficult to get official information on languages ​​in India, but what can be said with certainty is that there are many languages ​​in India, starting with the 22 languagesrecognized by the Constitution, including Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Tamil, where, besides English, Hindi recognized in the Devanagari script as the official language of the government of India. English, the language of the former colonial power, is also spoken fluently by 90 million people, namely those parts of the population who have enjoyed better education and a higher hierarchical position. Hindi is spoken by around 40 percent of Indians, mostly in the north and center of the country. However, there is no official national language. In the 1961 census of India, 1,652 “mother tongues” were recorded across the country, but it is unclear whether this number refers exclusively to languages ​​or also includes dialects. To create even more confusion: Many of these languages ​​were not spoken at all, and some people confused the language with the name of their caste.

The 2001 census listed 122 major languages ​​across the country, as well as 1,599 minor languages ​​(including possibly dialects). According to recent and somewhat more reliable research, it is 780 languages, suspecting that there could be another 100 languages.

Whatever the correct numbers, according to non-government sources, 220 Indian languages ​​are believed to have disappeared in the past 50 years. Another 150 languages ​​are threatened with extinction over the next 50 years as the people who speak them die and subsequent generations fail to learn their parents' language.

Country with the most languages: Papa New Guinea

To be awarded the title of the most multilingual country in the world may be an honor for many, and a cause for concern for some; but Papua New Guinea has certainly earned it. Populated by many different tribes, the country with only seven million inhabitants can do more than 850 languages mobilize. Unfortunately, many of these languages ​​are spoken by fewer than 1000 people, so these languages ​​are under the increasing influence of English and Tok Pisin, a Creole language derived from English, are threatened with extinction.

The other two official languages ​​are Hiri Motu and the sign language of Papua New Guinea, which was declared the official language in 2015.

So it seems like being multilingual isn't all that unusual. Be part of this global trend. Speak more languages ​​the way you've always wanted to.